Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ascension Thursday May 29th/Sunday May 31st 2014

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Risen Lord Jesus, to the right hand of His Father in Glory. Yet, if you think about it, this seems to be a contradiction. After all, Jesus said in the Gospel we just read, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” So, if Jesus ascends into heaven, how can he be with us until the end of time? If Jesus wanted to be with us until the end of the world, how come he didn’t just stay in Jerusalem and be available to everyone there? If he truly loved us, wouldn’t he have stayed so that we could encounter him, personally, just like his disciples, so that we too could see him, touch him--hear him? These are good questions. How can we answer them?

In our own lives, we can certainly feel as if Jesus has left us alone, especially when we experience bad things, like the death of a loved one, a personal tragedy; but also we can seem abandoned by Jesus our God even in just the everyday struggles of life. In ordinary life we can often experience sadness or loneliness, or sometimes even incredible anguish. I believe the apostles and disciples of Jesus felt many of these things, especially after Jesus was cruelly crucified—he left them alone through the stark reality of his death and then later apparently, through his ascension into heaven. How did they overcome their anguish and how do we overcome our own? Where lies our hope in this life?..... Well, the answer is simple, yet hard; but the ascension gives us the answer. The ascension points to our hope.

At the Ascension the Disciples believed in Jesus’ promise. So we, like them, also must believe in His promise. They believed in faith that even though Jesus was with the Father in heaven, and at the same time He was with them; and not just in their memory or in their heart. They believed that Jesus was still on earth physically with them, in His resurrected and now glorified body. This brings up one of the mistakes that many can make in their understanding about Christ’s ascension into heaven. The mistake is to think that Jesus is no longer with us here on earth.

When we think of the ascension, we can wrongly picture Jesus standing before the apostles and then floating up into the clouds disappearing from their sight. This is not what the language of the Gospel means. We have to understand the words of today's Gospel mystically; because they are speaking of great mysteries.

Mystically speaking what does it mean, as we are told in today's Gospel, "and he was taken up into heaven."? Well first of all Heaven is not a place up in the sky somewhere beyond the clouds or beyond the stars at the edge of the universe; nor is heaven some type of other dimension or parallel universe, talk of which is so in vogue now a days; heaven is not the stuff of science fiction.

Heaven is all around us because God is all around us. There is however, a veil that separates heaven from us. Heaven goes beyond our senses; even though it is all around, it transcends our ability to see it, touch it, taste it, hear it or smell it. Yet is more a reality around us than that which we can sense….we believe in what is invisible…

To be taken up into heaven means then to enter through that veil that separates heaven and earth; it is to go beyond our sense perception and behold that which we can only see now through the eyes of faith. To be taken up into heaven is to behold that reality above all other realities which no eye as seen, no ear has heard nor has never even entered into the mind of man. It is to behold that God who is all around as He truly is, to behold Him face to face, which means to become One with Him in an eternal union of unending Love. Heaven is the ultimate reality all around us, more real than what we can experience with our senses.

At His ascension then, Jesus in His human body enters through that veil and becomes the way, in fact the only way for us to enter through as well. And so Jesus' humanity has become a type of doorway, if you will, from earth to heaven. And so where He has gone in His human nature we can also now go with Him, in Him and through Him-He is the Way. By the way, we can enter into heaven with Him, in Him and through Him not only at our death but beginning already here on earth; this is our hope.

Hang with me here... Because of the ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to the Apostles, who were the first priests (which we will celebrated liturgically next week), Jesus' Human body can now be present both on earth and in heaven at the very same time. And so, in His Human nature, in His human body, blood, and soul--heaven and earth become one. In Jesus, heaven and earth unite.

The fact of the matter is, and this is very, very important to understand....the fact of the matter is, Jesus is also still on earth as He is in heaven. Not just spiritually, not just in the minds and hearts of the faithful, not just mystically in His Body the Church. Jesus is still present on earth in his human, corporal, physical and resurrected body. His human body, with all that makes up a human body: His hands and feet, His bones and blood and yes, His Human Heart alive and beating and His eyes looking lovingly at us, and ears with which to hear us, our pleading and our words of love.

The ascension was merely the end of His visible presence on earth, not the end of His physical presence on earth. Don't ever say, "when Jesus was on earth; and if you hear someone else say that correct them immediately. To say when Jesus was on earth is heresy. Jesus is still on earth, He is still on earth; He is still on earth.

But where, where is Jesus on earth as He is in heaven? At the Holy Mass, and only at the Holy Mass. It is at the Holy Mass that heaven and earth unite. At Holy Mass the veil is lifted and we entered into eternity and experience the resurrected and ascended Jesus sitting at His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father. The Heavenly Liturgy and the Earthly Liturgy literally become one; we worship and adore our God with all the angels and saints.

When we are in the presence of the Holy Eucharist we are at the same time both on earth and in heaven; in fact more in heaven than we are on earth. Where Jesus is there is heaven. Whether we encounter the Holy Eucharist, which is Jesus in His resurrected and ascended body, at Mass or outside of Mass in the tabernacle or at hours of adoration through Jesus in the Holy Eucharist we enter already through that veil that separates heaven and earth; we begin to process already that which we hope in; being embrace in the love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Yes we can't see with our human eyes the body of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist because we can't see Heaven. Yet, through faith we can know with certainty that He is really there and we can touch Him. "In faith God present in the Holy Eucharist can come to us, and show himself to the eyes of our heart." How we must present our self, before the throne of God at Holy Mass. Exteriorly, how we must act, how we must dress, even during the summer months, always wearing our Sunday best; dressed for the wedding feast of the Lamb not for a day at the park or the beach. Interiorly how we must present ourselves, how souls cleansed and made pure by confession,

Because Jesus is still on earth in the Holy Eucharist we discover that this, "The Mystery of Our Faith," is our hope in the present life of struggle and fear. But we must believe with our whole hearts and minds that He is really there in the tabernacle and on our altars after the words of consecration are spoken; and we must, we must, if we are to possess hope, live out that belief by adoring Him in the Holy Eucharist, falling on our knees and crying out in love, "Oh my God I believe, please help my unbelief. We must allow our encounter with the Eucharist, Jesus, to transform us. We must give our hearts to Jesus who gives His heart to us in the Holy Eucharist.

The Eucharist is our resurrected and ascended Lord. The Eucharist is Jesus and where Jesus is there is our hope, there is Heaven on earth. …we go to heaven to the extent we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him… (Pope Benedict)

Let us turn to Our Lady for help…Holy Mary, Mother of our hope, Queen of Peace, pray for us. Come Holy Spirit, Come by means of the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Your well-beloved spouse. Amen.

Monday, May 26, 2014

May 25th, 2014 Sixth Sunday in Easter.

“Beloved, Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping for conscience clear.” These words of St. Peter written in the first century were repeated to us by his successor, His Holiness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at His last visit to our beloved Country before he retired. By these words of Peter, the pope was calling us called, each and every Catholic in the United States, to give a stronger witness to others of the hope that we hold in our hearts. This was and is is a great challenge for us in our culture, which is in so many ways is quickly losing hope. It is a great challenge in our current environment that is becoming increasingly hostile to the truths of the Gospel. However, in today’s Gospel, we learn that the Holy Spirit will be with us to give us His help in all the little moments and in all the difficult moments that we are called to give faithful witness to Christ who is our hope, our Way, our Truth and our Life.

Certainly our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, understands us intimately well. After all He knitted us while we were in our mother’s womb; He knows us better than we know our self. And so He knows our feeble human nature and how fickle can be our love. He understood that His apostles would be scattered during His passion and death. He knew it would take time and His help for them to be able to grow in their faith, hope (trust) and their love so that they could be His faithful witness, His faithful friends who would witness to His love by proclaiming His truth in its fullness, boldly and without fear even unto death.

We too, like those first apostles, are afraid of giving witness to Jesus, and He as well knows our fear. We can be afraid what the truth may cost us. He knows that we can be tempted to not give a reason for the hope that is within us by burying our head and the sand and pretending that we can somehow be faithful Catholics without fidelity to the teachings of the Church which are the same as the truths of the Gospel. Jesus today however tells us that we will not be orphaned; he will not leave us alone, that through the Sacraments of the Church, He will be with us until the end of the world. And even more, He promises to send the Advocate, the Spirit of truth to us in order to help us, to strengthen our love for Him, and to lead us to all truth, to lead us to The Truth who is Jesus; and Jesus is the hope that never disappoints. He will be our strength in order to faithful witnesses to the truth He came to give us in order that we would be free and have life and have it to the full.

While he was last in the United States, Pope Emeritus Benedict also reminded us of the great dignity and the great responsibility we American Roman Catholics have in Christ. His words bear repeating; Pope Emeritus Benedict said to us:

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own, to
proclaim his glorious works” (1 Pet 2:9). These words of the Apostle Peter do not simply remind us of the dignity, which is ours by God’s grace; they also challenge us to an ever-greater fidelity to the glorious inheritance, which we have received in Christ (cf. Eph 1:18). They challenge us to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises. They challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope (cf. Rom 5:5) born of faith in God’s word, and trust in his promises."

Benedict here is telling us that to be faithful witnesses to Hope for our increasingly hopeless country and world entails many difficulties. To begin with, we have to do the difficult work of examining our conscience, particularly in the Sacrament of Penance. There, in the Tribunal of God’s Divine Mercy, honestly and humbly confessing those areas of our lives where we have not been faithful and which we continue to not be faithful to our baptismal promises. This hard work is the very foundation of our ability to give effective witness to our world to Christ.

Our witness is not and cannot be authentic if we fail to do this difficult work of repentance, of changing for the better with the help of God’s grace and our own hard work. So often we can tend to avoid trying to witness to our faith because we are ashamed of our sins. We can feel like hypocrites; for we ourselves have failed to live the Gospel so many times and in so many ways. Yet, the Sacrament of penance cleanses us from this fear and shame and gives us the grace to do better, to become better, more faithful, stronger and bolder followers of Christ; thus, giving witness not so much by what we say but by how we live.

Another aspect of our difficulty with giving witness is our culture is that our culture has basically relegated religion to solely a private affair. Our culture says if you want to belief that fine as long as you keep your beliefs to yourself; sadly many Catholics buy into this great error. Now, it is true that we want to respect the freedom of people to believe as their conscience dictates; we shouldn’t force our beliefs on others. This is also a true principle for civic life; the state should not dictate our beliefs.

This all being said, on the other hand, however, faith is really an ascent of our hearts and minds to the truth that is revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Church and through the Church. In other words, faith is a commitment to not just believe, but to live fully the truth, which is contained in its fullness only in the Teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. Faith is to live the teachings of the Church, all of them, no picking and choosing, to live them with our whole heart, mind, will, strength, with all our being, with the help of the necessary grace of the sacraments. To live the truth, to live the teachings of the Church is what is known as holiness and sanctity and is what the second Vatican called the universal call to holiness.

Sadly, us Catholics so often have difficulties with this reality of our faith, that of living the truth, living all the teachings of the Church. I think one of the main reasons is because of the false notion of freedom that our culture purposes to us and even imposes on us. Many think that obedience to the Church’s teachings is oppressive, that they stifle our ability to be free and even to think and be ourselves. Our Holy Father addressed this when he said,

“Authority”… “obedience”. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a “stumbling stone” for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” – we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. “In his will is our peace”.

If we turn to Him in faith, hope and love, the Holy Spirit allows us to surrender ourselves fully to Christ and to all that He has revealed; to live the truth no matter how hard or difficult. Surrender to the truth that comes from God far from restricting our freedom gives us true freedom, freedom to chose the True, the Good and the Beautiful. In this, freedom is not freedom from something but freedom for something; and that something is God and the truth of His life giving ways, which bring us, Hope and fill us with God’s Divine Mercy and Love. And far from asking us to abandon our intelligence in some kind of blind obedience, the Church calls us to us all of our intelligence in service of the Gospel.

As we are preparing this coming week for the Ascension of our Lord, which will be celebrated next Sunday, and following this Pentecost, let us ask for an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the Whole Church. Let ask Him to enlighten us to our sins, to our failure to love God by falling faithful to His Commandments and confess them truthfully and with a contrite heart in Confession, His tribunal of Mercy. Let us ask Him to help us surrender ourselves totally to our loving Father through Christ His Son. When we give ourselves totally to Christ and struggle to live fully the teachings of the Church, we lose nothing of ourselves, but instead we find ourselves and inherit true freedom and true dignity and life, the freedom, dignity and the life of sons and daughters of the Almighty God, our loving Father.

By obedience to Our Heavenly Father’s Commandments, which includes obedience to all the teachings of His Church, we show not only our faith in Him, but also our Love for Him; and He in return brings us into an intimate union with Himself through Christ His Son, in the Love of the Holy Spirit. Yes the truth may cost us, but it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil. And proclaiming the truth of the teachings of the Church which are the teachings of Christ of God Himself, not only by our words but most especially by our lives is the good to which we are called in order to be used to lead souls to Christ so that they too may embrace the truth and be saved.

Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit; come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Thy well beloved Spouse. (x3) Amen.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Mary is the great believer. She took up Abraham’s role of being a believer and crystallized Abraham’s faith in faith in Jesus Christ, thereby showing us all the way of faith, the courage to entrust ourselves to the God who puts himself in our hands, the joy of being his witnesses; and then his determination to stand firm when everyone else had fled, the courage to remain on the Lord’s side when he seemed to be lost and thus to make our own the testimony that led to Easter.

Hall of Popes
28 May 2011

Saturday, May 17, 2014

May 18th. Fifth Sunday in Easter.

Many of you may have seen the film, “The Lord of the Rings- The Fellowship of the Ring?” It is the first in a trilogy written by the great Catholic writer, JRR Tolkien. In preparing today’s homily I thought of this movie, because in a scene from this very Catholic movie, we hear these words “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” The scene was when the companions of the ring had just narrowly escaped from a dangerous journey in the mines of Moria, where their leader Gandolf, after battling what can only be described as a demon from hell itself, had fallen into the deep and was lost forever, at least so it seemed. The mission of the remaining members of the “Companion of the Ring, was now to some pull themselves back together in order to flee from their present danger, only to go into even greater danger in order to destroy an evil ring of power that was in their possession. Needless to say, they are anxious and afraid, not knowing what was going to happen next. And so, worn out, both from this perilous journey and from the anxiety from the dismal future they faced, the group enters the home of the elfin princess, the Lady Galadriel. She looks at each one and says ever so warmly speaking to the depths of their tired and aching hearts, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Things are never without hope.

We hear these same words today in our Gospel. But here they are not spoken in a fairy tale, but in reality by God Himself in person. By these words, Jesus, who is God in the flesh, is preparing his disciples for his upcoming passion and death. Jesus here has just celebrated the Last Supper-the first Holy Mass and unites it to His passion by speaking of His blood which is about to poured out. The apostles, his closest friends, have heavy hearts to say the least. And, they know they themselves are about to go into danger with Jesus. A darkness has come over their hearts and minds; they just don’t know what will happen next. They are anxious and full of fear over Jesus impeding death and their own seeming soon to be death. Yet, Jesus, as the true and living God, sees this in their hearts and tells them with so much concern and compassion in his voice, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

The example of the scene from the movie, the Lord of the Rings, and Jesus’ upcoming passion in this Gospel, were both very dramatic events filled with anxiety and fear, Jesus passion however unlike the movie, was of course real. For us, perhaps we do not personal face this intensity of drama. But we do face situations that make us anxious and fearful and so Jesus today speaks in person to each one of us.

Our current world is filled with much that can make us anxious and fearful. We can become anxious and fearful from all sorts of circumstances in our lives. These can be financial, or family problems, or an serious illness or the illness of, or death of a loved one. All of this, and world events can make us feel overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, a kind of darkness can take over our lives and enter into our hearts and minds. We can begin to live by just trying to get through the next week, over even through the next day. What will happen next? We can become so full of anxiety and fear that we become hopeless and fall into the deep, into despair. Where do we turn for help? Who will help us out of the mess in our lives and in our world? Why is all of this happening to me?

It is then that we need to listen these words of Jesus who speaks to us in the depths of our heart, even in the darkness of our current situation-Jesus who is always present to us, speaks to us in the present moment- “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” How can we hear these words of Jesus address to us personally? Through prayer from our hearts, from the depths of our being…crying out….de profundis clamor meus ad te veniat dominum….out of the depths I cry unto thee O Lord….

When we turn to Jesus in heartfelt prayer we find in our conversation with Him a peace that surpasses all understanding; we discover that Jesus speaks these words to us personally in the present moment what ever may be occuring in the present moment. It is only in intimate prayer that we will find peace, the peace that our hearts long for. Prayer is a real, active, intimate action and friendship with the person of Jesus Christ. In this type of relationship we are enabled, empowered to face the anxieties and fears of our circumstances with confidence, with fortitude and begin to rebuild our hope that has been weakened by fear, anxiety and despair.

Hope is the very antidote for fear and despair. When the world (or even members and leaders of the Church), loses hope, it turns instead to violence and terror, to worldly power. Hope is a theological virtue: it is to long to be with Jesus for eternity and to trust in Him during our time here on earth, that he never abandon us, that He brings us His mercy and forgiveness; and by doing so to already obtain that or who in which we hope for, Jesus Himself. Hope unites with Jesus already in the present moment what ever that moment may be. And so, nothing can get in the way of this except ourself, that is if we fail to turn to and pray to Jesus, to cry out to Jesus, in order to trust in Jesus.

Hope, however is a difficult virtue for any of us to live, especially when we are in the heat of the battle. And so, we can only live hope in a deep relationship with Jesus- in and through our prayer. It is only in prayer that our hope is strengthened; and prayer not just in the heat of the moment when we need Jesus, but prayer before the heat of the moment comes…in fact we always need Jesus even in times of apparent calm. Now I am not speaking here about just formal prayer, which is definitely needed. But I am talking about intimate prayer, prayer in which we approach and speak to Jesus as we would our dearest and truest friend, because He is.

I like to teach little children why we need to pray to Jesus every day. Not just memorized prayers, Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, and Glory be’s as important and needed as these are, but prayer in which we pray to Jesus as our best friend. I ask children if they pray every day? Usually they tell me, “well not every day.” Then I usually ask them this question. “What would happen if you didn’t speak to your best friend at school every day or if you went to his house and didn’t talk to him? I always get the same correct answer from the children, “then we wouldn’t be friends.

Well what happens if you and I don’t talk to Jesus? We wouldn’t be friends either. Then we should always talk to Jesus everyday, just like we talk to our best friends, because Jesus is always with us and he wants to be our dearest and truest friends. What is it called when you talk to Jesus? Prayer. I then ask the children, “why try to face your cares and anxieties alone.” I tell them, “Do not let your problems trouble your heart, have hope in Jesus--trust him.”

The same is true as adults with our relationship with Jesus- do we speak to him each and everyday? Do we speak to him in intimate terms telling him all of our dreams, cares and concerns, do we tell him we don’t feel like praying; or even that we are mad at Him; or that we are afraid. For a long time, I personally never realize that one could speak to Jesus in this way. When I found out I could speak to him honestly as a friend and tell him everything, my relationship with him changed, I began to have more peace in my life, even amidst my troubles. Without this type of prayer, we don’t have much of a relationship with Jesus and we surely don’t have peace.

In our world and in our lives without this type of relationship, without prayer, both formal and conversational with Jesus, anxiety, fear and despair can take control and we can feel completely hopeless. Without daily prayer, we fall into sin and our hope is weakened even more, we no longer posses what we need to face the burdens of this world. With the current unsettling drama unfolding in our world we need, more than ever, to be on intimate speaking terms with Jesus who longs to tell us personally, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

The problem of course with praying to Jesus like this, is that it is the very business of our lives and its cares and concerns, which make it difficult for us to pray to Jesus in this way and daily. I know that even as a priest I struggle to find time to have daily conversation with Jesus. All the cares of my day can distract me, and if I am not careful before I know it, I can go most the day without an intimate conversation with our Lord. In times of great struggle, such as an illness or economic struggle, it is easy to take our eyes off of Jesus and begin to give into fear and so lose our peace, we fail to realize that Jesus is with us in the present moment, again however difficult the present moment might be.

As we approach the end of the Easter Season and the great Solemnities of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven and the following Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, let us turn to the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness and to help us to daily pray intimately to Jesus even when its hard and devoid of feelings. Jesus has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to be our advocate, our divine helper.

It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray and draw closer to Jesus. Pope Francis, at His weekly audiences in Rome has been teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This past week He taught about the gift of fortitude; Francis explained that the gifts of the Spirit – wisdom, understanding and counsel – “enable us to contemplate God’s loving plan and to know his will,” but through the gift of fortitude, “we receive the strength to do God’s will in spite of our own natural weakness and limitations.” He said:

“In our everyday life, in difficult times it would do us good to say this 'I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me,'” said the Pope. “The Lord always gives us strength, the Lord never gives us more than we can handle, 'I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.'"

The Holy Father acknowledged that “sometimes we may be tempted to allow ourselves to be overtaken by laziness or despondency, especially when faced with the hardships and trials of life.”
Yet, he said, “do not lose heart, but invoke the Holy Spirit.” In doing so, “He can lift our hearts and communicate new vigor and enthusiasm to our lives and our following Jesus.”:

Let us ask the Holy Spirit at this Holy Mass not only for an increase in hope, but also for an increase in the gift of fortitude. Let us ask Him to help us to pray more and with deeper intensity and intimacy and let us ask Him to help us to fix our eyes always on Jesus and never take our stare off of Him no matter what real drama is unfolding in the world around us. May He lead us to the source of our strength and hope, the very source of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that source is Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. In the Holy Eucharist through faith we see the face of the Father by seeing the face of the Son Jesus who is truly present their with His human face. In the Holy Eucharist Jesus comes to us, and if we are open, He leaves us the Holy Spirit to be our constant companion.

Let us pray: Holy Spirit, strengthen our faith to keep our eyes on Jesus, strengthen our hope to trust in Jesus fully, strengthen our love, our charity, to be always united to Him in perfect friendship, and through Him united to You and the Father.
Come Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary Your well beloved spouse. Holy Spirit, help us to pray and make us into best friends with Jesus, united to Him in and by Your divine power and love. Stengthen our fortitude, Give us a strong hope and grant us your peace, which surpasses all understanding. Amen.